Aspen delegation attends ‘gross national happiness’ conference in Bhutan
While attending a conference last month in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan covering how “gross national happiness” should be considered along with economic output, Jim True was struck by what was not said.
There had been almost no discussion about the impact of one’s connection to the natural world on happiness at the gathering put on by the Centre for Bhutan Studies & Gross National Happiness. “GNH of Business” was the seventh conference the entity had produced on the topic and it attracted some 400 government leaders, academics, sociologists and scientists from 26 countries, according to a press release.
True, who is Aspen’s city attorney and whose position on the board of the Aspen International Mountain Foundation garnered him an invite to the conference, went for a hike to a monastery known as the Tiger’s Nest the day before he was supposed to speak and he saw something that reinforced what was already the focus of his remarks. There was a wooden sign at the trailhead that read: “Preserve our natural rich heritage. Do not pollute the surroundings. Remember, nature is the source of all happiness.”
The sign resonated and he added it into his talk, which also covered efforts in Aspen to get more people active and outside. He discussed the Aspen City of Wellbeing nonprofit that partners with government agencies and private businesses to increase employee wellness and the Aspen Skiing Co., which relies on enthusiasm for the outdoors as part of its profit model.
The six-day trip was funded by the Aspen International Mountain Foundation and the conference organizers.
Lorraine Miller, a Colorado Mountain College Aspen faculty member, also made the trip and chaired a panel on business enterprise. She is working with the college and the Bhutan Trust for Environmental Conservation on a possible exchange that would bring Bhutanese forest and park rangers to Colorado. She had also traveled to Bhutan, where the national language is Dzongkha and the Tibetan alphabet is used in written communication, in 2016 through an arrangement with AIMF, in the service of her language studies. Miller teaches developmental education and English as a second language.
While in the country that is slightly smaller than Switzerland and is home to some 800,000 people, True and Miller met the Bhutanese prime minister and the leader of the country’s parliamentary opposition party, who may become the next prime minister.
The Aspen International Mountain Foundation, which serves on the steering committee of the United Nations Mountain Partnership, works to promote sustainable development in mountain communities.
The Bhutanese conference explored ways that businesses around the world currently achieve gross national happiness, which “attempts to measure the sum total not only of economic output, but also of net environmental impacts, the spiritual and cultural growth of citizens, mental and physical health and the strength of the corporate and political systems,” according to Investopedia.com.
rue said he was struck during his visit half way around the world by how all peoples yearn for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, though different cultures have their own ways of going about those pursuits. He noted that a study reported high levels of personal happiness in Bangladeshi garment factory workers.
The trip for True included a flight that put Mount Everest in direct view from his airplane window. He also hiked to a 10,000-foot pass that offered views of 20,000-foottall peaks, including the world’s tallest unclimbed mountain. The mountain, located in Bhutan, remains unclimbed because that country, with a strong Buddhist tradition, views the summits of its mountains as sacred and does not allow climbers access.